The Killdeer

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

-Matthew 4:1

This is the opening line to Matthew’s story of Jesus’ time in the desert.  It is a perplexing one, and one that at first glance can bring fear and a sense of foreboding. After all, deserts are known for their unforgiving, barren surroundings.  It is clear that Jesus would not have much to help him if he was going into the desert.  Survival is not a given.  Yet it is there, in a weakened state from fasting, that he is tempted by the devil.  And the most perplexing part is that the Spirit led him to this!

The message then, is a strong one:  go to the place where you are vulnerable, hold onto that place and endure it for a while, and you will find something new.

I see the truth of this in nature each spring.  We have many killdeer in our part of the country.  And they are chatty and somewhat pestering birds when you get near their nests.  You will often stumble upon their nests unknowingly because unlike most birds who build nests in trees or high places, killdeer put their eggs right on the ground and use camouflage as their main source of protection.    They sit on their eggs like most birds, but when you get too close, they do an interesting thing…they feign injury.  They run off their nests and, as my dad says, “flop around and give you the broken-wing treatment.”  Which is exactly what they do.  They flop around on the ground, squawking and carrying on so that you think they are injured.  For animals who act on instinct (like my dog) this is a wonderful distraction as it drives their potential threat away from the nest towards the bird itself (who is not really injured at all), as a means of protecting their young.  It also works for distracting humans as they make quite a scene!

I’m on to their act now, though, so I know not to be distracted by their carrying on, and I go poking about in the rocks and stones looking for their nest, careful of my steps as I could easily crush the eggs if I weren’t careful.  Twice now, I’ve found some eggs hidden right among the rocks.  And there, for me, the message is the same:  new life is waiting to burst forth in the unlikeliest of places, vulnerable and exposed, lying against the harsh backdrop of raw, barren earth.

There is a measure of Jesus’s trust in the Spirit, that I see mirrored in the trust of the killdeer.

To me, the message of Jesus’ experience in the desert and the message of the killdeer are one and the same:  don’t be afraid to start a new life by making yourself vulnerable.  In many ways, this is what the Lenten season is about, really.  Giving up something we’ve been holding onto in place of God.  Letting go of old habits that have gotten a little too comfortable, a little too routine.  We are to shake things up a bit.  Only by doing this, can we see ourselves in a new light and observe how we react and protect ourselves (our egos) from the absolute truth of God.  Only here can we see how easily we let the devil—that is, the great distractor– take our eyes off the new life that God wants to create in us.

There was an encouraging email that went around a few years ago that said, “The will of God will never lead you where His grace will not protect you.”  As we witness Jesus’ encounter with the devil in the desert, we can be certain this is true.  In the end, God sent angels to come and tend to him. Yet, as we read the story in its entirety we find that not only was Jesus able to withstand the temptations of the devil all on his own, but he came out of the desert now sure of who he was.   We’d be remiss to never notice that it was only after the desert experience that Jesus began his ministry.

Reflect:  How has my act of giving something up for Lent, or starting a new habit for Lent, helped me make room for the Spirit of God to create something new in me?  Have I made myself vulnerable enough to let God move in?  If I haven’t gone searching in the “desert” of my heart, what am I afraid of?  How might the Spirit be leading me to discover a deeper calling for his work through me?

Pray:  Guiding Spirit, help us trust you as you lead us into places within ourselves that we’d rather not travel.  Remind us that while we may feel vulnerable and exposed, our fear is nothing more than a distraction keeping us from carrying out your work.  Hold us firmly as we lay open our hearts to you.  Breathe into us the confidence that angels will tend to us, if we are willing to let them, and that a new life awaits us on the other side of our shadowed, broken selves.

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When God Regrets

The males and females of each living creature entered the ark, just as God had commanded. Then the LORD sealed them inside.

-Genesis 7:16 (ISV)

In his book The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama was asked the question regarding a painful moment in his life, “How did you deal with that feeling of regret?  How did you eventually get rid of it?” to which he replied, “I didn’t get rid of it.  It’s still there.”

As Christians, we too, know the feeling of regret.  We are hardly alone.  I have regrets.  You have regrets.  The Dalai Lama has regrets.  Despite our best intentions, it seems, we all have regrets.  Searching in my memory for moments of regret in Scripture led me to the story of Noah.

 Then the LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and he was deeply grieved about that.

Genesis 6:6 (ISV)

While this may not sound like the beginning of a story of hope and promise and love, it most definitely is.  It is, of course, in the beginning of one of the most popular bible stories of all time:  Noah and the ark.  While it may initially sadden us to read that God ever “regretted” creating us, what we may find comforting about reading this is the reminder that we are made in God’s image so if even God had regrets, then it must be OK –perhaps even necessary—that we have them, too, right? That leads to the question: what do we do with regrets?  Well, more importantly, what did God do?  He looked at this regrettable situation and the messy-ness his decisions had created and he found the good. He.Found.The. Good.

 The LORD was pleased with Noah, however.

-Genesis 6:8 (ISV)

And when God found one good thing amidst all the bleakness, he was able to find more!  As we read on we discover not only Noah, but his wife, his three sons, their wives and all the animals were still good and worth holding onto in God’s eyes!  So God focused all his attention onto the goodness that remained, commanded it to stay put, and tucked it all away into the safety of the ark.

 The males and females of each living creature entered the ark, just as God had commanded. Then the LORD sealed them inside.

-Genesis 7:16 (ISV)

After this, of course, a brutal storm rages.  Waves crash, winds howl and Noah and all the animals are tossed about, until finally, one day, storms have passed, the water has subsided and there is solid ground once again.  Here, finally, it is safe and beneficial to let out the goodness that had been tucked inside.  And that goodness—that is, in this case, Noah—makes an offering to God.  God, in return makes a promise:

 … “I will never again curse the land because of human beings—even though human inclinations remain evil from youth—nor will I destroy every living being ever again, as I’ve done. Never again, as long as the earth exists, will sowing and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night ever cease.”

-Genesis 8:21-22

Then, this happens to the goodness that was Noah and his family:

God blessed Noah and his sons and ordered them, “Be productive, multiply, and fill the earth.”

-Genesis 9:1 (ISV)

I see woven within in the story of Noah a recipe from God for what to do when we find ourselves faced with regret:

  1. Acknowledge our regret. For many of us, this is done best through the acknowledgement—or what modern psychologists might call “owning up” – of all of the ways in which we may experience regret.   This act of acknowledgment comes most powerfully in the form of a humble and contrite confession to God and is not limited to acknowledging only our poor choices but also the many ways in which regret and sin may find us, “in my thoughts, and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,” as Catholics say in the Confiteor.
  2. Find something good to hold onto from the situation that brought on the regret. Most often it will be a new awareness or appreciation for something that perhaps was previously taken for granted. Regret over a poor parenting decision, for instance, may bring the “fruit” of a new appreciation for our children.
  3. Tuck that goodness into your heart and lock it safely inside. While God’s forgiveness is immediate and complete, the process of forgiving ourselves generally takes much longer. During this time, our emotions rage. All those Why did/didn’t I…? What if I had…? ‘s can be very taxing, but in time, the harshness of these thoughts will diminish if we let the tides of God’s love wash over them. Most importantly, while the storm of regret rages, do not forget that goodness, too, can and will eventually come from the darkness if you are willing to let it.
  4. Remind yourself of God’s promises. First, that he loves all of us and does not seek to destroy us, yes. But secondly, that throughout all our time on earth we will know “sowing and harvesting, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night.” In other words, we will know suffering, but we will also know joy! Again and again and again. This is not just a promise to love us always, but also a promise to reassure us that everything—even our moments of regret—are all a part of God’s blessing and design for us!
  5. Use any goodness from your moment of regret for a greater good. If your regret brought a new awareness of a social injustice, consider taking action to promote awareness of it, or donating your time and money to its cause. If your regret brings new insight into what led to your poor choices, remind yourself to make a better choice the next time you are put in a similar situation and give thanks to God for helping you see another option. If your moment of regret led you to find a new appreciation for life or family or Church or freedom, cherish that gift and give thanks to God for it and celebrate that gift with others.

It seems in the story of Noah, we can take comfort in believing that it is normal, maybe even necessary, to have some regrets. It is a gift to use them and learn from them. A life without any regrets is seemingly impossible, and arguably would provide little growth. As the Dalai Lama went on to say in his book, “But even though that feeling of regret is still there, it isn’t associated with a feeling of heaviness or a quality of pulling me back. It would not be helpful to anyone if I let that feeling of regret weigh me down, be simply a source of discouragement and depression with no purpose, or interfere with going on with my life to the best of my ability.” Put another way, we can realize through Noah’s story, that what we do with regret is our choice.  God gives us the freedom to choose whether we will hold onto the good that comes from moments of regret and move forward, or let them sink us.

Reflect: What is my moment of deepest regret in life? How am I a better person for having that experience, despite any regret I may feel? What did I learn about myself or others from that experience that has given me a deeper wisdom? How can I use my regret as a catalyst for good moving forward to make my life better for myself and others?

Pray: Cleansing God, though they are painful experiences and memories for me, thank you for giving me moments of regret as milestones in my life. Help me to use them as reminders that growth is sometimes a painful process. Help me also to see that even in painful moments, your love for me and all of humanity endures. Like you sealed Noah and his family in the ark during the storm, seal the regrets of my life with the balm of your love. Amen.

2014: Starting My Year on Sabbatical

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”  Mark 1:35

After a wonderful Christmas with family and some time spent reflecting on what I want and hope to see happen in the New Year, I’ve felt compelled to take a step back from blogging for awhile.  I have some writing projects I’m working on with a good friend and have found after some practice that I’m simply not equipped to “do it all” (i.e., keep up a blog, and work on other writing projects, plus, you know, be a mom), or at I least I can’t do it all at once!

At this point, I do not have a specific idea of how long I will be away from the blog, though I know it will be at least a month…perhaps several…perhaps the entire year.  Time will tell! 🙂

I hope the New Year brings you much peace and prosperity.  I have embraced the word “Wellness” for the New Year, and it is already proving to be a nice navigational tool for my health and fitness focus (hello dry-roasted almonds, goodbye Peanut Butter Blossoms) as well as for the the six other areas that encompass overall wellness.

Thanks for reading along with me the past few years, and thanks for dropping comments or encouraging words along the way. They have meant more to me than you’ll ever know!

Until we meet again…have a blessed 2014!

Eucharist: A Meditation

It is a shame how often I make God so small.  He is so much greater than any word can say.  Even the word “he” is such a minimalizing pronoun, because God is not just father, but also mother, love and spirit.  Yet, this God who is so great is happy to shrink Himself to something that I can understand.  Any ounce of my love and attention He can have, He celebrates and rewards.

I see it most often in the Eucharist.  He starts as the seed that must first die in order to grow into wheat.  There, He sits, innocent and vulnerable to, trusting that drought and insects will stay at bay, and trusting the hands of the farmer to pluck Him out as food for all.  In the act of harvest, He is pulled from the soil and beaten and broken into death again, trusting in the hands of the baker, now, to use Him as flour that will rise again in the bread that feeds all.  He is in every grain of it!

He is likewise in the wine.  He is the seed that grows into the vine that becomes fruitful and multiplies, only to be plucked from its source and mashed and beaten into juice and bits.  Bleeding and broken, He is left to rot and ferment to become a source of nourishment for all.

In these ways He gives us life!  He dies.  He rises.

And He offers Himself this way not again and again, but always and forever to be consumed—devoured—by those who love Him!

He is the Perfect Father, the Perfect Mother, the Perfect Lover, the Perfect Provider…and yet.

Yet.

So often, I miss all that.  I do nothing more than get in line, march to the altar and briefly bow my head, and say “Amen” when He is put before me and declared, “The body of Christ.”  Instead, I do it hoping that I have “earned” His love for another week.  Hoping that He is the winning lottery ticket of my life.  From Him I ask so much:  life and health and wealth and luxury and fame.

But for Him?

For Him, my bowing and agreement that this little wafer of bread and this cheap dime-store wine, blessed and broken, is in fact Him?

For Him, this is enough.

Because in that simple act—despite any doubt on my behalf—He has come to rest in me through the violent act of my chewing , swallowing, and digesting His flesh and blood.

And somewhere in that simple act, is the Paschal Mystery taught by the Perfect Teacher in two lessons:

  1.  You are what you eat.
  2. He dies.  He rises.  We die.  We rise.

Amen.

Sewing a Cushion for My Pity Pot (And Other Prayers of Gratitude)

Like most of yours, my summer has been flying!

I was pretty sure that when I posted way back in May that I’d write blog posts every Monday, I could hear God laughing hysterically with other plans. Turns out I’d heard right. It’s been a whole month now since I last blogged.  And today isn’t even Monday.  So, evidently my plan went all to pot.  (Shocker, I know.)

In an effort to get you all caught up on things that have been happening with me this past month (because I’m sure you’re dying to hear), allow me to bring you up to speed you with my abbreviated list of our summer happenings:

  • 2nd week of July :  We entertained these adorable family visitors ↓↓↓↓

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  • Aren’t they sweet?  Couldn’t you just eat them up?  (I should probably mention that they brought my in-laws with them…all the way from across these great United States).  Long story short, we had all kinds of fun with everyone the entire week.   Life was SO GOOD!
  • 3rd week of July:  We sent our family visitors on their way (along with my in-laws) and almost instantly became bored with life.  It was very confusing.  One day we had three dogs and two extra people and the next day there was …just us.  I was sure we’d get over it.   I planned some things to get us back on track,  (but I think we’ve determined already  how well things work out when I make plans!)  (Did I hear laughter, again?)
  • 4th week of July :  We trudged through the mundaneness of wide-open summer days with nothing to do.  On top of it, I had NO energy.  No oomph.  Meanwhile, I watched my friends traveling on fun, exotic, and exciting vacations (I know this because I stalked casually observed them on Facebook about every 3.5 minutes).  (They were always having fun.) I, on the other hand,  was bored.  B-O-R-E-D bored.  And also tired.  And maybe a little bit disenchanted with all things fun.  And also all things God.  (Yes, I said it.)

And, as is the case when all of life becomes boring, the days and weeks get longer.  For the rarely occurring 5th week of what had become a painfully long, boring month, I STILL had nothing to say on the blog.  So, to pass the time I guess,  I took a seat up on my Pity Pot (which, to me, looks a lot like those five-gallon buckets with a lid) and started  feeling  sorry for myself.  Everyone else is having fun.  Everyone else is rich and can take exotic vacations.  Everyone else lives a better life than me. (Can I hear a “Debbie Downer” mwomp-mwomp, please?)

Trying to find inspiration, I went back to my blog to read my last post.  To my astonishment, very little had changed.  In many respects, I was still the full-of-myself older brother of the prodigal son… and I was still missing the party!  Though I tried to pray my way through it, most days the best I could do was muster a big sigh and expel the word “God.”  (Except it sometimes came out as the more blasphemous sounding “G-a-a-w-w-d,”  I’m not gonna lie.  It was kind of ugly.)

Still, I kept looking for little bits of light on any given day, even if all I could see was a glimmer.

Eventually (and by eventually I mean yesterday, or maybe the day before), I realized that this whole Pity Pot thing was getting out of control.  I wasn’t even enjoying the complaining anymore!

So, I spent some time focusing on that image of the older brother, standing outside the house (or more accurately sitting outside the house…on his Pity Pot, of course!)   I imagined the feelings  of the older brother, watching the party going on inside the house.  And realized this was very similar to watching all my friends take exotic vacations, and fill their lives with joy and laughter.  And I found some words for a question I threw at God, Why do they get to have all the fun?  (No response.)  Why can’t I go inside?  (A response this time:  You can).  I ranted on, Oh, you’d just love that wouldn’t you?  It’s bad enough watching and listening to all the fun from here, but to go inside and watch them have  fun right in front of my face?!?!  No thanks!

It was about this time that I remembered that the older brother’s being outside had been his choice from the beginning.   In the story of the Prodigal Son, the father comes outside and pleads with him.

Now I realized not only had I refused the father like the older brother had, but I was starting to blame the father for my being outside as well.

(Oh, goody.  I’m sure that story ends well.) (*Eye roll*)

I put myself back in the image and tried again.

I watched the party some more.  I finally asked a question that was not about the others and the fun they were having, but about me….Why am I so bored?

And with that question, I felt something change inside me.  It is difficult to say what exactly…A softening?  A shift in focus?  A change in perspective, perhaps?   I decided to just accept the possibility– for just a minute or two– that sitting there on my Pity Pot, watching the party going on inside was exactly where I was supposed to be. 

And I waited.

And as I did, the evening sky grew dark around me and the party lights from within glowed in bright contrast.  The moon and stars looked beautiful in comparison and the birds sang their evening song and the crickets chirped in harmony.

It was a very peaceful image.

I realized I didn’t mind the party at all now.  Instead, I felt a little sorry for everyone missing this glorious night sky!   And I realized I wasn’t bored anymore.  There was nothing mundane about what I was seeing and feeling.   I felt calm.  I felt peaceful.  I felt relaxed.

It occurred to me then that perhaps God and I had different words for the same experience.  What I called boring and mundane, God saw as an opportunity for me to rest and relax.  I had a choice in the matter:  I could fight it and complain (like I’d been doing) or,  I could take and accept his gift of rest and relaxation which—ironically–I always complain about never getting.

Something had changed me.   I was no longer the hard-hearted fool I’d been before.  I was now aware that even there on my Pity Pot, I was loved.

With a new heart, I sent up prayers for those partiers inside, happy for them that it was their time to party.  Joyful for them and grateful to God for allowing me this time to sit outside …yes, on my Pity Pot… and rest.

I laughed to myself when I wondered, could I sew a cushion for my Pity Pot ?  Maybe post it on Pinterest?  I would title it, My Summer Project , and it would be God’s and my joke to share.

I’d forgotten what a difference it makes when I ask God to share His vision for my life’s plan.  In this example, with His vision, I understood instantly that my “boring” life was really an invitation for me to rest.  I also realized a second truth about my life and God’s plan.  This second truth was about my future and some long-forgotten prayers about His using me for a greater good.

And my heart skipped a beat.

And I gripped my Pity Pot with anticipation and excitement (and some fear and trembling, too).  Because suddenly more questions come What is it that I need to be rested for?  What will God call me to do?

I called my questions out to the night sky.

Not yet, the stars and moon sing down to me.   Not yet.  Sit a while longer.

And I know they are right.  Because… while I may anticipate changes coming,  I do not know how much those changes will take of my focus, my time, my energy (my sanity?)  So…

Not yet.

Trust me.

And I do.

I sit.  And rest.  And watch.  And celebrate.  And pray.

And I thank God for this lesson.

Because if God wants me to rest for something that I cannot see coming?  Believe me, I want to be rested.

Because God’s invitation to rest?

Is also an invitation to be ready.

A Can’t Miss Post!

As the school year quickly winds down here, I find myself short on time more than ever this week, which is why I was so grateful this morning to see my good friend Anne write a great post on HER blog this morning about a topic I really don’t like to tackle:  tithing.  Give it a read by clicking here and let her know your thoughts!

Her words today reminded me of this quote from Martin Luther:  “There are three conversions necessary, the conversion of the heart, mind and purse.”

Enjoy giving this some thought and I’ll be back with a post– and a great guest photo–next week!

Using Marriage

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Eighteen years ago today, I was a young bride walking down the aisle to promise before God and everyone that I would “be true” to the man I’d fallen in love with “until death.”

Like most people, Ted and I can’t believe how the years since that day have flown.  How that day seems as though it were both a lifetime ago and only yesterday.

This got me to thinking about  what I would say to someone if they asked  what our “secret” is to staying married.  (For the record, no one has asked, but isn’t that why I blog?)

The first thought that came to mind is that I could point to two shining examples among many in our families.  This 18th year of marriage for us is bookmarked neatly between two other anniversary milestones in our families:  my parents’ 45th and his parent’s’ upcoming 50th.  Through our parents (and grandparents–Ted and I were dating at my grandparents’ 60th anniversary!), both of us have witnessed great examples of  how to struggle through the difficult times, suffer through the painful times, and celebrate the joyful times–always together.

I also always liked the answer I saw on a Dr. Phil episode once.  (Eye roll.  I know.  Dr. Phil).  Still, I thought it was a good answer.  He said a woman who’d been married 60 years was asked what her secret was, she said, “I guess we never fell out of love at the same time.”  I think there’s truth to that, too.  Even if it’s a little depressing to think about.

Most recently though, I’ve come across an answer I like best as it best fits Ted and I.  It was a story about how in the Orthodox faith there is first a civil ceremony that is celebrated in the public arena for all to see, and it’s followed by a second sacramental ceremony.

You do not have to do the second ceremony.

But in order to celebrate it, you have to make a choice to enter into it.

The article said that the second ceremony is the celebration of the choice to have that marriage, which is already a marriage, “crowned by the wisdom, glory and meaning of the cross of Christ.”

Now, as a Catholic, I could argue that because our wedding took place in a Catholic church, where marriage is taught as and considered a sacrament, that Ted and I made that choice and had the public and the sacramental marriages combined into one.  And it wouldn’t be entirely untrue.  But, if I’m really honest, the truth for me is that I wasn’t thinking about any of that back then.  I was thinking about how much I liked wearing my white dress, how neat my manicure turned out, and how fun our reception was going to be.

I wasn’t thinking about sacraments  (or even God for that matter), much at all.

But, I believe that somewhere in our eighteen years, we’ve both made the decision to enter into that second ceremony.

Through the years we have “washed each other’s feet” in service to one another.  (Not literally.  I don’t do feet.  But you get the gist).  We have celebrated the “eucharist” of marriage by taking, blessing, breaking and giving parts of ourselves to each other in ways that only two people who have trust, and faith and love for God, for each other, and for themselves can do.  And we have taken parts of ourselves that we’ve  loved and we’ve witnessed their painful “crucifixion”.  We have struggled, and suffered and let parts of us die for the betterment of the other.  For the betterment of the two of us over the one.  And while one was suffering an inner crucifixion, the other of us has stood by as witness, holding on to faith, standing by in hope, and letting go in love, trusting the process for the other, willing them on to endure the pain to witness the healing and joys of a “resurrection,” a new life, on the other side.

For me, the answer to staying married is to be willing to go “all the way.”  Now, to any 20-year-old that expression has a very shallow meaning and can be complete in a five-minute interlude on the wedding night (or in many cases before).

But, for me, our only “secret” to a lasting marriage is that each of us, in our own way, and in our own time, has made the choice to use our marriage and enter the Mystery.

Marriage as the Mystery of the Cross.

Marriage as the Mystery of Christ.

Marriage as the Mystery of Love that is God.

Marriage as a daily choice.

It may not be what you were looking for.  It may not sound romantic.

But, after 18 years, that’s the only “secret” I have to offer.

My Blog Posts…They are a-Changin’

Oh, boy. Looks like I fell off the blogging wagon again.

*sigh*

I apologize.

I gotta tell you, this blogging thing? It ain’t for sissies.

I must confess that after a year of blogging, taking the time to write is still sometimes harder than I think it should be.  But that being said,  last Lent when I suddenly got a wild hair to blog every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I thought my ability to do that would last forever!

Still, alas, here we are,  a full week gone by without an entry.  (And I still have no real idea what to say.)  But the bigger issue is that I’m finding I don’t really want to make the time right now to do it.  Blog, I mean.

But please know this:  it’s not because of you.

It’s because the kids’ school years are winding down, and their activities are winding up, and I find myself twisting in the wind trying to hold on to every moment between now and their final day before celebrating their summer freedom, and lamenting that another year has come and gone so quickly.  You know, just like I do every year.

SO, on that note, I want to say that I am realizing I can’t keep up the pace of a thrice-a-week blog right now.  (Or I just don’t want to.)  Either way, I’m only committing to one post a week for a while.

I hope you understand.

And because I like to try not to leave my readers hanging (but mostly because I need to have a commitment in order to fill it) let’s say from this point forward to look for my blog on Mondays and I’ll let you know if that doesn’t work for me down the road, OK?

Whew!  Glad to have that cleared up!

In other news, I have to tell you what I was so excited to come across last weekend.  It’s one of the BEST things about moving out here to good ol’ PA.  It’s a massive book sale held once a year at our local college campus.  And for the past two years I have totally SCORED at this sale!

I have such a good time there, that I just walk in and march my little ol’ self up to the religion section, and I start throwing books in my bag.  I hardly have to even think about it…you know why?  Because the books are DIRT CHEAP!  (And by dirt cheap I mean if it’s $3.00, I may just put it back!)

Here are the great books that will keep me company this year, from the sale:

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They cost me a whopping $29.50.

I know!  (Try not to be jealous.)

Anyway, I get so excited about all I find there that I seldom realize how different my “favorite” selections are from those of my younger years.   I’m no longer among the people clamoring for the best sellers.  (In fact, it’s likely I’ve not even heard of them!)  Which may just explain why I’ve been asked on a few occasions  (usually by someone while I’m waiting at the doctor’s office) if I’m reading the book for a class.  (I guess they mean as in college?)  (If so, I’m certain they must think I’m back in school…not in it for the first time!)  Anyway, it’s happened enough times that I’m not as surprised by the inquiry as much now, and I just usually laugh and say, “Nope.  I’m just a big nerd.”  Which usually makes them laugh and we can both just move on from the awkwardness of the moment.

Since that is my “normal” experience,  I was tickled by the response of the older gentleman running the register (OK, it’s really just a calculator) at the book sale as I was checking out at last weekend’s book fair.   He’d either read them and loved them, or really wanted to read them, it seemed.   I couldn’t help but smile at his comments as he was ringing up my tab.   He marveled over and over at what great books I had found.   (Clearly he was a kindred spirit and not just “blowing smoke” as he’d not seemed nearly as fascinated with the previous person’s finding of Raising Cats and Household Handyman.)  No.  He seemed genuinely astonished at all my finds as he put the last book in the bag for me.   I think  it was in an effort to try to understand his and my “reading connection” that made him ask, “Are you in school?”  I chuckled a little but his question caught me a bit off guard.  He’d asked it differently than I’d been asked before, not just in his wording, but also in his tone.  He really seemed like he wanted to know.  (Any past inquiries had all been veiled ways of saying, “That book looks so boring you must be reading it for a class.”)  I was just as curious and impressed as he that we had these books in common.  So how should I answer?

I thought for a moment and flashed him my biggest smile.

“Well…just the School of Life,” I said.

And he smiled then, too.  Understanding, it seemed.

“Ahh…the School of Life, ” he said, “I like that.  The School of Life.”

It wasn’t until I walked away, still thinking about that moment, that I realized the Absolute Truth in my response.

Making the Grade

A few weeks ago in my bible study group, we read and reflected on the story of the rich young man in the gospel of Matthew.

If you’re not familiar with this story, I’ll warn you now, it can be unsettling.  Especially for those of you who are, like me, all caught up in our First World problems.

The story goes like this:

Now someone approached [Jesus] and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”  He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good.  If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”  He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

I, too, have many possessions.

I may not have as many as my neighbor.  Or some of my friends.  Or Oprah.  But I have many.  Clearly, more than I need. (Otherwise why would I have missed blogging last week to have a garage sale?)

So, it’s easy to think that there’s no hope for anyone who has many possessions.  But when my group was reading this story in my bible study class, another story came to my mind that I thought had a similar message.  It’s a story about my brother, who is a college professor (having grown up with him and his antics, I have to stifle laughter when I say “brother” and “professor” in the same breath, but it’s true!)   And he’s a professor who has earned his job through a lot of sacrifice, hard work, and discipline.  He’s a professor of graphic design at a distinguished art school and he’s passionate about his work and his teaching. He’s worked long hard hours to hone the skills he both uses and teaches.  And like any great teacher, he is also always learning.

For some reason, as I read the story of the rich young man, I remembered this story my brother told me during one of his first years of teaching.  It was about a young girl who’d come up to him with a question about the grade she’d received on her project.  As my brother began to critique her work and explain to her the ways in which she would need to improve her skills in future projects, she interrupted him with a loud sigh and said (carrying with her a certain attitude and air of having lived a life full of only getting what she wants),  “Just tell me what I need to do to get an A!”

My brother looked at her and smiled and said, “Unless you change your attitude, you already can’t get higher than a B.”

My brother’s message to his student, and Jesus’ message to the young man, I think, are one in the same: change your heart.  To be an artist you need to be willing to take on the heart of an artist.  That means going to the tender, rawest parts of yourself, and offering them up in the form of art to others.  It also means exposing yourself to others’ criticism.  You must also keep in mind that your work and who you are not necessarily one in the same, but that you will not discover the artist in you  unless you make yourself vulnerable to criticism.

In a similar way, as Christians, we are called to take on the heart of Jesus.  This means allowing our own hearts to change.  We must examine  how we feel about ourselves, observe our actions, and examine our possessions.   And we must allow God to critique them all.

Just like the girl in my brother’s story, I think it’s easy for us to want to know what we have to do to get the Christian equivalent of an A: eternal life in heaven.  And in the essence of the question posed by the girl and the rich young man is the truth of what we’re really asking:  what’s the minimum I have to do to get the best grade possible?  Or, what’s the minimum amount I need to change in order for me to get into heaven?  In both stories, the teacher is quick to point out that to become what we’re trying to become, we need to do more than just follow a rubric, we need to be willing to give up everything we believe about who we are, and what we are capable of.   And for the artist, it is in that most vulnerable state of deep inner offering, that her best works are created.

And for the Christian?

For the Christian, it is in that most vulnerable state of emptiness and void– detached from all earthly things– that we are finally able to discover the eternal Being that lives within us all.

Every Knee Shall Bend

I knew this would happen.

Me and my big mouth.  Or big words from my keyboard.

Or whatever.

Remember three weeks ago when I had the brilliant idea that I needed to discipline myself to blog every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through Lent (but really, if I’m honest my intention was through forever, I was just too chicken to admit it)?   Well, here we are at the day I feared as soon as I published those words…the day I’m too full of thoughts about my unending To Do list to really settle down and put thoughts together to share.  (I was hoping for a short thought at least, but so far, I got nothin’!).  I even laid the groundwork for a topic to write about today on Monday’s post but can’t seem to focus my mind enough to even tie into what I thought I was going to say clear back then.

And now, instead of being able to put any thoughts together about Mary and the women’s roles in the story of Christ’s Passion, I am instead  full of thoughts about volunteer work I’m behind on, laundry that needs to be done, and housework and groceries and upcoming meetings and Easter and Mass times and fasting.

The good news is that in writing this post, I have succeeded in my discipline of blogging every Monday, Wednesday and Friday (so far).

The bad news is that other than sharing my To Do list with you, I’ve failed at writing anything even remotely significant.

Fortunately, I have been taught that failure is always a good thing.  And I can see it right now as I fail before you.  What you may see right now are my meaningless ramblings and a half-hearted attempt to fulfill an obligation to discipline myself and my writing.  But what I see is me allowing myself for the first time to step out of the room, completely naked (speaking figuratively here, folks!) , and show you my true self:  scatter-brained, with nothing to offer you except evidence that I have made a promise to you and I will keep it.

On that note, it has occurred to me that perhaps “showing up” today wasn’t really about me at all.

Perhaps it was about you.

And what I can offer you. (Despite my long To Do list).

And the one thing I could offer you as we prepare for Maundy Thursday, the traditional day of the “washing of the feet”– a reenactment of one of the greatest acts of service in Scripture–is my prayer.

I offer you my prayer.

Sure, my To Do list is long, but I do my best to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17).  I would be happy to pray with you as I work through my To Do list today.  If you have anything or anyone special to pray for drop it in the comments below.  Though I’m not overly talented at multi-tasking, prayer is the one thing I can do well with anything!  (Even if you just “like” it, I’ll be sure to pray!)

I believe that Jesus set this example for us– bending down to offer us his service in the most humbling way–so that we would in turn go out and do the same.

After all, he never did become a king the way his followers expected, so what else could it meant that “at the name of Jesus, even knee shall bend.” (Phil 2:10)?